Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Va. Supreme Court Passes on Pot Prosecution Case — “The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Arlington’s chief prosecutor to rein in judges who are skeptical of her refusal to prosecute marijuana possession. But the court did not resolve the conflict, saying it could not weigh in because it had not been asked to consider any specific case.” [Washington Post]

Big Response to Mailbox — “‘We’ve collected at least probably 500 letters in the two weeks that we’ve had the [Santa] mailbox out,’ Rachael Tolman, the Park Manager at Gulf Branch Park said. ‘It’s a lot of letters.’ The lists some children put in the mailbox looked different, with requests for masks and good health.” [WUSA 9]

Nonprofit Merger Complete — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at-risk families and individuals, has finalized its merger with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [InsideNova]

Pedestrian Struck in Ballston — “Police and medics on scene of a pedestrian struck by a driver in front of the Ballston Harris Teeter on N. Glebe Road. So far, the victim’s injuries sound minor.” [Twitter]

Holiday Pop-Ups in National Landing — “As part of National Landing’s mission to activate public spaces, the BID has unveiled ‘Turn Up the Love,’ a winterlong campaign featuring a series of engaging outdoor pop-ups. These festive installations include a larger-than-life boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments, three shareable photo frames and even more surprises to be announced after the holidays.” [National Landing BID]

Nearby: BB Gun Shootings in FC — “Police investigated calls of vandalism and found a teen who confessed to at least 50 incidents of shooting vehicles and people. Some victims have been identified, but police believe there may be more.” [City of Falls Church]

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A Metro employee beat a coworker unconscious at the Pentagon station in 2017, after becoming enraged because the victim helped a rider, according to recent court filings about a previously-reported incident.

The day after the March 8, 2017 incident, it was reported by the Washington Post and other local outlets that a station manager assaulted a fare technician, who was “taken to the hospital and evaluated, but was not admitted and did not have visible injuries.” The station manager was arrested, though few other details were released and no motive given.

New information about the attack came to light as a result of a federal lawsuit filed by the victim, as relayed by the Twitter account @unsuckdcmetro, suggesting that the attack was more serious than first reported — and the result of an unusual workplace dispute.

Court filings detail what happened that day between the fare technician, Teshome Workagegnehu, and the station manager, Martin Van Buren.

Plaintiff began working for WMATA as a mechanic in June 2012. On March 8, 2017, he went to the Pentagon train station in Virginia to repair SmartTrip card machines. While he was there, he got into an argument with Martin Van Buren, the on-duty train station manager.

According to plaintiff, Van Buren became upset after plaintiff assisted a customer purchase a SmartTrip card. Van Buren told plaintiff that helping customers was outside of plaintiff’s “responsibility,” and plaintiff disagreed.

Then Van Buren allegedly punched plaintiff in the face, pinned him to the ground, and continued punching him. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital where he stayed overnight. Police arrived at the scene and defendant Van Buren was arrested.

Van Buren was convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor, in Arlington General District Court in May of that year. He was sentenced to a net of 15 days in jail — 180 days, with 165 suspended — according to court records.

Later, Teshome Workagegnehu alleged that he was improperly denied the ability to sue WMATA. Last week, however, a D.C. federal appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that he can’t sue because his injuries were work-related and covered by workers compensation.

The appeals court ruling has more details about what happened, saying that Van Buren “swore at and dismissed the customer” who asked for help, before Workagegnehu stepped in.

Teshome Workagegnehu and Martin Van Buren, both WMATA employees, were in a Metro station kiosk in Arlington, Virginia when a customer approached and asked for help with using the SmarTrip vending machine. Van Buren swore at and dismissed the customer. When the customer became flustered, Workagegnehu volunteered to help since he was going to maintain the machines anyway. Van Buren told Workagegnehu not to touch the machines, but Workagegnehu thought he was joking. Workagegnehu helped the customer, performed his maintenance, and then returned to the kiosk. Van Buren told Workagegnehu it was not his responsibility to help customers, and a brief verbal exchange followed as to each person’s job responsibilities.

While the two discussed their job responsibilities, Van Buren suddenly attacked Workagegnehu. Van Buren pinned Workagegnehu to the ground and punched him until he was unconscious. As Workagegnehu awoke, Van Buren said they should stop fighting because they would lose their jobs. But when Workagegnehu stood to leave, Van Buren attacked him again. Several customers and other employees saw the incident. Police arrived and arrested Van Buren, who was later convicted of assault. Workagegnehu sustained severe injuries and required hospitalization.

Workagegnehu was “faced with substantial hospital bills” after the attack, per the court document. He sued after WMATA did not initially approve his workers compensation claim.

The court ordered the workers comp claim paid, but Workagegnehu continued to pursue a suit against WMATA for the assault and the infliction of emotional distress. That was dismissed after the court ruled that the Virginia Workers Compensation Act barred it.

File photo

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(Updated at noon) The Arlington County Circuit Court rejected a plea bargain that would place a Maryland man on two years of probation for allegedly bringing 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil into the county.

The suspect is accused of arriving on a flight to Reagan National Airport in November 2018 with a checked bag stuffed with drugs. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at baggage claim.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation, wrote the presiding judge. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.

Judge Daniel Fiore, II, in a memorandum of opinion that was obtained by ARLnow, said the punishment would not deter the defendant, or anyone else, from carrying large amounts of drugs into Virginia for distribution.

“Virginia jurisprudence has long and consistently recognized deterrence as means for a court to determine an appropriate sentence, no matter the criminal statute violated,” Fiore wrote. “Deterrence disincentives unlawful behavior both for the individual and for society.”

Excerpts of Fiore’s opinion were published in late September in Virginia Lawyers Weekly. A call to judge’s chambers was not returned. Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow that she could not comment on the case at this point.

This rejected bargain is part of a larger theater taking place across the nation, as some prosecutors are changing their approach to drug crimes and judges are fighting back. The tug-of-war reached Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed a law last month that would require judges to dismiss charges when both the prosecution and defense agree to a bargain or deal.

Fiore wrote that he rejected the bargain in part because the prosecution and defense had understated how much marijuana and hashish the defendant had. The amounts, once disclosed, merited prison sentences between five and 40 years and fines of up to $500,000, Fiore wrote.

Focusing on the quantity of drugs strikes Public Defender Brad Haywood as a bit naive, considering the defendant was likely a low-level “drug mule” put in a high-risk situation by higher-level drug traffickers. He might not have known the quantity of drugs he was carrying, as mules often do not, Haywood said in an email, adding that mules are often thought of as victims of drug trafficking.

“They are under duress; fearful for their safety, desperate for money, or desperate to feed their own addictions,” he said. “They are easy to manipulate precisely because they are suffering. They can even be pressured into doing something as irrational as traveling on a plane with tons of narcotics.”

Given the risk involved, mules are often caught, Haywood said. Instead of harshly prosecuting mules, however, the government frequently offers them leniency so they can help apprehend the supplier.

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After a months-long hiatus due to the pandemic, Arlington County is preparing to resume jury trials.

“The Arlington Circuit Court is planning to resume jury trials in September 2020,” the court says on its website. “If you received a juror summons for a reporting date after September 1, 2020, please carefully read the front and back of the summons and follow all instructions. Visit the Juror Website or call the Juror Hotline 703-228-0533 to confirm receipt of the summons and to make requests to be deferred or excused.”

The court website says a number of safety measures will be in place, including mandatory mask-wearing for everyone in the courthouse, temperature checks, staggered juror arrival times, social distancing, and readily-available hand sanitizer and wipes.

“Every person who has a case in the Circuit Court is afforded the opportunity of a jury trial pursuant to our Constitution,” the court in a FAQ document. “In resuming jury trials which were delayed due to COVID-19, the Arlington Circuit Court fully understands the need to protect the health and safety of jurors, trial participants, county employees, and the public.”

Those with valid health concerns, COVID-19 risk factors, and known exposures to the virus can request to be excused from jury duty.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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The owner of the Arlington Smoke Shop in Green Valley says charges have been dropped against the alleged burglar shot by a store employee.

Jowan Zuber said this week on a GoFundMe page for the employee, Hamzeh Abushariah, that the “mastermind of the burglary” was “allowed to walk free” by prosecutors — while Abushariah remains under house arrest, facing serious charges in connection to the March 29 shooting.

Two other alleged burglars are still facing charges, after police say they broke into the store at 2428 Shirlington Road early in the morning and attempted to steal items. Abushariah was sleeping in a backroom of the store at the time, but woke up and grabbed the store’s gun. Zuber says the person who was shot is being “protected” by prosecutors.

“I can’t believe they’re protecting the criminal,” he said last night on Tucker Carlson Tonight, his second appearance on top-rated the Fox News opinion show. “I’m sure if the criminal broke into their house they would be doing 10 years in jail right now.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, declined to confirm that charges were dropped against the suspect, who — like the other two — are juveniles.

“Based on the ethical rules which govern lawyers and prosecutors, we are very limited in what we can say about cases — and even more limited in what we can say about juvenile cases,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said Monday, in response to an ARLnow inquiry. “The only question I can answer is that the case of the adult (shooter) is still pending.”

ARLnow previously reported that the third suspect had not been charged and was still “in a medical facility” almost one month after the shooting. Zuber told the Daily Caller that he appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Despite the juvenile’s injuries, Zuber said last night that it was not fair for Abushariah to be facing charges and the alleged organizer of the crime to be free, suggesting without additional evidence that there might be a political motivation.

“This is so sad and so shocking, the justice system is not working in Arlington,” he said. “The prosecutor’s office is very upset that I came on your show and spoke the truth and now they’re looking at the whole thing a different way.”

Following a preliminary hearing on July 30, Abushariah’s case is now heading to Arlington Circuit Court. Zuber wants police to release the full surveillance video of the shooting, which he claims shows the now-free suspect “lunging” at Abushariah before the shooting. Prosecutors say the boy was shot “point blank” in the back.

“I hope that Arlington County will share the video exactly,” Zuber said.

Zuber noted that Abushariah is under house arrest and cannot work or take his kids to the park, but still has to pay more than $1,000 per month in child support and fees for his court-mandated GPS monitor. The GoFundMe for Abushariah has raised more than $10,000 since last night’s “Tucker” show, and now stands at $13,349 of a $100,000 goal.

Zuber said the handling of the burglary case sends a bad message to young people.

“Hey you can go rob and steal and the prosecutor will stand next to you and defend you,” he said. “This is sad for justice, this is injustice.”

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Morning Notes

Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]

Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]

Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]

Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]

Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]

County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Waiving Affordable Housing Loan Payments — “The Board approved allowing borrowers of County Multifamily Revolving Loan Funds the option of waiving their 2020 loan payments if they commit to using the money to address rent and vacancy losses and emergency needs that are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Arlington County]

County Delaying Purchase of Property Near Shirlington — “In order to keep their options open, the Arlington County Board will make another $175,000 payment to hold open the possibility of acquiring two parcels adjacent to the Arlington Cultural Affairs facility in the Four Mile Run corridor.” [InsideNova]

Masks Required at County Courthouse — “Beginning May 22, 2020, cloth facial coverings will be available for all people who do not have one as they enter the Arlington County Courthouse, Sheriff Beth Arthur announced. This comes after the Honorable Judge Newman, Arlington County Chief Judge, ordered that all patrons who enter the Courthouse will be required to wear a cloth face covering or face mask.” [Arlington County]

Chamber Supports Extra Outdoor Dining Space — “Allowing restaurants to use parking lots and street parking spaces for additional outdoor capacity, similar to how they have been allowed to reserve parking space for carryout patrons, will provide additional flexibility for socially distanced service. We also encourage the County to consider block closures where restaurants may set up tables on a pedestrianized right of way to expand overall capacity.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Pair in Stolen SUV Crash into Parked Cars — “The victim’s Ford F-150 was parked when he observed the unknown suspect enter it and and drive away. An officer en route to the call for service observed the F-150 and a Toyota Land Cruiser in the area travelling at high rates of speed. The officer attempted to effect a traffic stop on the F-150, however, it the driver refused to stop and fled onto I-395 NB. The Land Cruiser, which had previously been reported stolen out of Arlington, was later located, unoccupied, after it crashed into multiple parked vehicles.” [Arlington County]

Fund Established for Gutshall’s Kids — “A memorial fund to support the education of the late County Board member Erik Gutshall’s children has been established… The fund was established by a ‘generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous.'” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Fairfax Parks Reopening — “The Park Authority has begun reopening of parking lots and parks in the park system to be open for the Memorial Day weekend. Park Authority staff will begin the process of clearing barricades and opening parking lots at all 427 parks for our community on Wednesday, May 20 through Friday, May 22. These parks will reopen for limited use in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.” [Fairfax County]

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At least six inmates in the Arlington County jail have been released ahead of schedule, following the announcement that a sheriff’s deputy tested positive for coronavirus.

The releases came after the public defender’s office filed motions with Arlington Circuit Court to reconsider the sentences of around 20 inmates, a day after the April 23 announcement. Public Defender Brad Haywood says he also petitioned Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for clemency for 63 local inmates, though that request is still pending.

“We have spoken with the administration and they appear to be taking the request seriously,” Haywood said of the petition. “We are providing more detailed information to them at their request. No movement yet, but we remain optimistic.”

Jails and prisons across the U.S. have been especially vulnerable to spread of the virus, with around 5,000 infections and more than 100 deaths attributable to correctional facilities, according to the CDC.

Coronavirus “spreads easily and aggressively from person to person,” Haywood noted in an April 24 letter to the circuit court. “While there are no reported cases of COVID-19 among the Arlington County Detention Facility’s incarcerated population, because of and as evidenced by the Arlington Deputy Sheriff’s positive test, infiltration is inevitable.

“The risk to inmates is going to persist regardless of how effectively the pandemic is dealt with in the community,” he added. “This is a problem that cannot be avoided, and it is quite literally a matter of life and death.”

Haywood has been assisted in his efforts by Arlington’s top prosecutor, who took office at the beginning of the year after running on a criminal justice reform platform, and the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail. All three have been working to reduce the inmate population during the pandemic.

“Pretty early on, the public defender and I, and the Sheriff and I, got together and realized that what we really needed to do was thin out the jail population, both for the safety of the people who were incarcerated and also for the safety of the Sheriff’s deputies,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, during an online town hall about a week ago.

“We started going through the lists to ask the question, for each person do they really need to be there? So we were pulling files and proactively calling defense attorneys and suggesting they file motions for reconsideration,” she continued. “The public defender was doing this at exactly the same time. We’re lucky that we have a good relationship and so we were talking about the cases and collaborating.”

Despite concerns for the incarcerated, Tafti said it’s not realistic to empty the jails completely.

“Obviously we can’t let everybody out, but trying to get as many folks, and to be as surgical as possible — to ask the question: is this person really going to flee or is this person really going to reoffend?” said Tafti.

There has been a 25-30% reduction in prison population “over the past few months,” according to Tafti. Judges, meanwhile, haven’t always been as receptive to the idea of releasing inmates as the prosecutor’s office. The Washington Post reported in March that at least one Arlington judge was pushing back against recommendations to release certain inmates.

Arlington County police are contributing to the thinning of the jail population, Tafti said, in part by being more selective about who is held in jail and who is released pending trial.

“[Police] are actually issuing summonses more than arresting people, so they’ve tried to pull back that way,” she said. “In the initial bond hearings we’re still trying to be as surgical and careful as possible, and make sure as many people [get bail] as possible.”

Tafti said her office no longer asks for cash bail, but depending on circumstances still has to ask for some detainees to be held. It’s a tough decision, though, given the health risks in jail.

“It’s important that we don’t put them in a position where they’re likely to get sicker when they haven’t been convicted of a crime yet,” she said.

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(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Arlington residents will select a new County Board member on July 7, following the resignation of the late Erik Gutshall.

Gutshall resigned from the Board just 10 days before passing away from brain cancer on Thursday, April 16.

Earlier this afternoon, Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman, Jr. set Tuesday, July 7 as the special election date for Gutshall’s successor, who serve out the rest of his term through the end of 2021.

State law “provides that the special election shall be held not less than sixty days and not more than eighty days after the occurrence of the vacancy,” Newman noted in his decision. It cannot be held “within the fifty-five days prior to a general or primary election.” The statewide Virginia non-presidential primary this year is scheduled for June 23.

Late Friday afternoon, in an emergency meeting, Arlington’s Electoral Board set a candidate filing deadline of Friday, May 8.

Following the selection of the filing deadline, the Arlington County Democratic Committee announced that it would be holding a closed caucus among its Steering Committee and County Committee members, unless Gov. Ralph Northam and the state legislature act to push the special election date back.

More from an email sent by the local party to members:

Arlington Democrats believe a vote-by-mail nomination caucus open to all Democratic registered voters in Arlington would best serve the interests of democracy and Arlington voters in this unprecedented time of public health crisis. But, in order to meet the aggressive timeline set by the laws of Virginia, it is impossible to facilitate a vote-by-mail nomination process. This leaves the Arlington Democrats with no option but to select the Democratic nominee through a closed virtual caucus, which involves a vote by the members of its Steering Committee and County Committee that will conclude by May 7.

Arlington Democrats is prepared to transform this virtual nomination process — which is detailed in the Arlington Democrats’ new special election webpage — into a vote-by-mail process open to all Democratic registered voters in Arlington if the nomination period is extended to encompass a two-month period. Arlington Democrats is actively exploring options to achieve this extension, including through consultation with multiple legal counsel.

Arlington Democrats also is asking Governor Northam and the General Assembly to move the special election date so that political parties have the ability to hold an open nomination process, while respecting necessary social distancing measures. Please help us to fight for the voting rights of Arlington voters by signing this petition — act today!

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Morning Notes

List of County Gov’t Changes — “With cases in the region, including Arlington, we are taking critical steps to slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), as the health and safety of our employees and our community is our top priority. While we will be making changes to some programs and services, we will continue to operate essential government services for our residents and businesses.” [Arlington County]

Visits Cancelled at County Jail — “All Professional Visits will be non-contact for a minimum of 30 days. All Personal Visits will be cancelled for a minimum of 30 days. All programs will be cancelled for a minimum of 30 days.” [Arlington County]

Jury Trials Postponed — “As of March 15, the Circuit Court has postponed all jury trials & released witnesses from subpoenas through March 31. Other hearings & sentencing dockets are also postponed. See attached. Arraignments & bond motions will still be heard.” [Twitter]

Metro Reduces Service — “As of 2 p.m., Friday, March 13, Metro has further escalated its response to Phase 3 of its Pandemic Flu Plan. Phase 3 is the highest level of response and will include all subsequent mitigation steps required during the public health emergency… Monday-Friday: Trains will operate every 12 minutes on each line throughout the day. The rail system will maintain normal hours, opening at 5 a.m.” [WMATA]

Visitor Restrictions at Va. Hospital Center — “Effective March 12, we have implemented new visitation restrictions to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff from the spread of COVID-19.” [Instagram]

Restaurant Delivering Free Meals — “Between the empty grocery store shelves, scary headlines, and mass closures, it’s hard not to feel like the world is ending. Which is why Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher wanted to do something to make people’s lives a little easier. So yesterday, he posted a message on Twitter: If anyone over the age of 70 needed a meal, his restaurant would make sure they got one.” [Washingtonian]

Few Crowds at Pentagon City Mall — The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall was “almost dead” at noon on Saturday as most shoppers sayed away. Meanwhile, a reader took a video of people in full body suits in the Victoria’s Secret store; it’s unclear whether they were cleaning the store or otherwise. [Twitter, Twitter]

Crash on N. Glebe Road Saturday — A crash at N. Glebe Road and Pershing Drive sent a car careening into a lamp post, over a sidewalk and smashing into the parking lot of the Buckingham Center strip mall on Saturday. [Twitter]

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